Select Committee on Environmental Audit Fifth Special Report

Appendix—Government response

The Environmental Audit Committee's fourth report of session 2007-08, published on 2 May, replies to the Government's response to the Committee's earlier report, Are biofuels sustainable?

The Committee says in paragraph 8:

"Without standards for sustainability and safeguards to protect carbon sinks we believe policies that encourage demand for first generation biofuels are damaging. We reiterate our case for a moratorium on policies aimed at increasing the use of biofuels and urge the Government to resist attempts to increase EU biofuel targets. The review of biofuels announced by the Government is important, and it would be a mistake to press ahead in the absence of the information needed to inform effective decision making."

The Government has explained its view that a moratorium on the development of biofuels would mean losing an opportunity for greenhouse gas savings, and that on the basis of present evidence the right approach is therefore to proceed cautiously, with low initial targets under the RTFO (significantly lower than the reference value for the 2010 indicative target in the current EU biofuels legislation). Though it should be possible for suppliers to meet their obligations under the RTFO just from biofuels produced in the UK, we believe that a mixture of locally-produced and imported biofuels would be more beneficial. This view is supported by the International Monetary Fund in the report mentioned by the Committee, which concludes that free trade in biofuels would benefit the environment as well as make biofuel economically more viable.

The Committee says that harm could arise if the development of biofuels continues without the necessary safeguards. The Government agrees. We have made clear that we shall oppose any increase above existing targets without proper evidence on sustainability. As yet we have no evidence that these targets would lead to unsustainable production of biofuels. But we shall continue to look at them in the light of the best available evidence.

The Government fully recognises the potential benefits of second generation biofuels. They can be made from non-food materials and thus reduce pressures on use of land, and may deliver very good greenhouse gas savings. In recognition of these benefits the draft EU Renewable Energy Directive proposes that biofuels made from wastes and other non-food materials should count double under national renewable energy obligations. The Government already provides some support for technology development for biofuels and is considering what further measures may be required.

Robust sustainability criteria for biofuels remain essential. The UK is playing a full part in current EU negotiations on sustainability requirements for both the Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives. The findings of the Gallagher review will be important, particularly on the impart of land use change, which we agree with the Committee must be taken into account. With the right sustainability criteria in place, we believe that there will continue to be a role for cost-effective, sustainably-produced biofuels in tackling climate change.

Jim Fitzpatrick

19 May 2008


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